New scholarships soon will be available to students at UCF and four local colleges that participate in the DirectConnect to UCF program.

The Johnson Scholarship Foundation announced Thursday that it will offer a $1.5 million challenge grant to support need-based scholarships.

“We’re interested in students who have financial need who might not otherwise go to college. DirectConnect is a perfect fit for us,” said foundation president Malcolm Macleod, adding that community and state colleges can offer a bridge out of poverty.

The foundation will provide $500,000 to benefit students who attend Brevard Community College, Lake-Sumter Community College, Seminole State College and Valencia College.  The colleges will raise money to match the foundation’s contribution, increasing the value of that endowment to $1 million.

The other $1 million of the foundation’s matching funds will help build a $3 million scholarship endowment available to students once they make the transition to UCF. Every dollar given by the colleges to this fund will be matched by both UCF and the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

Once the endowments are fully funded, the investment proceeds from a total of $4 million will benefit students at the four colleges and UCF.

Recipients of the scholarship will be deemed “Johnson Scholars.” Throughout their college careers they will have special program requirements that emphasize leadership development.

DirectConnect to UCF began in 2006 to increase local students’ access to the many opportunities that earning a college degree can provide. This partnership guarantees entrance and accelerated admission to UCF after students complete their associate’s degrees from one of the four colleges.

Joint advisers from the colleges and UCF are available to the students to help create a four-year plan. This makes the transfers as seamless as possible and better prepares students to complete bachelor’s degrees.

Macleod said DirectConnect to UCF enables students to attend the partner colleges and continue to live at home for two years to save money.

During the 2010-2011 school year, 6,805 new students enrolled at UCF from the program, and a little more than one third of UCF graduates during that same year participated in DirectConnect to UCF.

The Johnson Scholarship Foundation is a private foundation with a mission to assist disadvantaged people. All scholarships and grants are made through selected institutions. The foundation believes that education can empower disadvantaged people to improve their economic circumstances and quality of life.